Todd Graham: UA win ‘special,’ pleased with ASU’s progress in year one

Nov 27, 2012, 12:33 AM | Updated: 1:51 pm

After touring the state before the season began, attending luncheons with alunmni and speaking at length with former lettermen, ASU’s first-year head coach Todd Graham learned quickly that the Territorial Cup was about more than just bragging rights. It was the type of rivalry game that could very easily shape his legacy in the Valley.

ASU had 12 games on its schedule in 2012, but Graham understood that the perception of his first year in Tempe would largely hinge on the Sun Devils’ performance against UA.

So three days after his team’s 41-34 upset win over previously No. 24-ranked Wildcats, Graham still wasn’t shy about expressing his emotions.

“It was special,” Graham told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo Monday. “No doubt about it, this was the game for us. We had it up year-round in the locker room. We did that because for the fans this is their team, and we wanted to represent them.

“So, I know for me and my staff, the [win against UA] was very enjoyable.”

For a coach whose team was mired in a four-game losing streak just two weeks ago, Graham understands bowl eligibility and a win over the Wildcats is just a starting point for his program, nothing more and nothing less.

Graham admitted that while progress was made in all phases this season, his biggest goal during the year was to instill a new identity on the defensive side of the football.

While the Sun Devils finished 7-5 and had a four-game stretch where they surrendered 36 or more points, the team’s transformation on defense was still readily apparent.

ASU finished second in the country in sacks (48.0), second in tackles for a loss (106.0), third in interceptions (20) and 27th-best in total defense (350.8 yards allowed per game).

In addition to the defensive unit’s tremendous strides, junior defensive tackle Will Sutton had quite a year for himself (3 forced fumbles, 9.5 sacks, 20 tackles for a loss and 58 total tackles). Monday, Sutton was named the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the first Sun Devil to win the award since linebacker Dale Robinson (2005).

“I think he’s only scratched the surface of what he can be,” said Graham on his star defensive lineman. “A year ago, I’m not sure anyone knew who Will Sutton was. We brought in a system I think he fit in. He’s excelled, but I think he’s only scratched the surface of what he can be.”

Graham and his coaching staff weren’t just successful implementing their philosophies on defense. The Sun Devils dramatically improved in the discipline department as well. In just one season under Graham, ASU went from the most-penalized team in the Pac-12 (79.8 penalty yards per game in 2011) to the least-penalized team in the conference (36.2 penalty yards per game in 2012).

Penguin Air
Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (25) runs for a long gain against Arizona State during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/John Miller)
Arizona quarterback Matt Scott passes against Arizona State during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/John Miller)
Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (25) is tackled by Arizona State defenders after a short gain during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/John Miller)
Arizona State's Richard Morrison (8) runs for a short gain against Arizona during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/John Miller)
Game officials meet at midfield before an NCAA college football game between Arizona State and Arizona at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/John Miller)
Arizona State starting quarterback Keelan Johnson (10) avoids the attempted tackle by Arizona's Jake Fischer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Wily Low)
Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (25) jumps over the end zone for a touchdown as teammate Drew Robinson (87) watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona State at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Wily Low)
Arizona State's Kylan Butler (1) runs for a touchdown past Arizona's Sir Thomas Jackson (53) during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Wily Low)
Arizona State's Kylan Butler (1) runs for a touchdown past Arizona's Shaquille Richardson (5) during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Wily Low)
Arizona's Garic Wharton (16) tries to leave Arizona State's Chris Young (21) behind during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Wily Low)
Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (25) has his jersey grabbed by an Arizona State defender during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Wily Low)
Arizona State's Osahon Irabor, right, intercepts a pass in front of Arizona's Austin Hill (29) during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Wily Low)
Arizona State coach Todd Graham, center, diagrams a play for players Keelan Johnson (10), Alden Darby (4), Chris Young (21), and Brandon Magee (8) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Wily Low)
Arizona's head coach Rich Rodriguez watches from the sidelines as Arizona plays Arizona State during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/John Miller)
Arizona State's starting quarterback Taylor Kelly (10) almost runs out of bounds against Arizona during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/John Miller)
Arizona state's Marion Grice (1) runs for a long gain against Arizona during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. Arizona State won 41- 34. (AP Photo/John Miller)
Arizona starting quarterback Matt Scott (10) is tackled for a loss by Arizona State's Carl Bradford, right, during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. Arizona State won 41-34. (AP Photo/Wily Low)
Arizona State's Michael Eubank celebrates his touchdown against Arizona during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. Arizona State won 41-34. (AP Photo/Wily Low)
Arizona State's Kevin Ayers (19) blocks the punt of Arizona's Kyle Dugandzic (13) during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. Arizona State won 41-34. (AP Photo/Wily Low)

Arizona State Football

Quarterback Emory Jones #5 of the Arizona State Sun Devils passes the ball in the first quarter aga...
Kellan Olson

Arizona State QB Emory Jones expected to enter transfer portal

Arizona State quarterback Emory Jones is expected to enter the transfer portal, according to Arizona Sports' John Gambadoro.
2 days ago
Tight end Jalin Conyers #12 of the Arizona State Sun Devils catches a four-yard touchdown reception...
Jake Anderson

After transfer tease, TE Jalin Conyers announces return to ASU

Redshirt junior tight end Jalin Conyers is returning to play football at Arizona State for the 2023 season, he announced on Thursday.
2 days ago
Arizona State enters into Sun Devil Stadium during a College Football game between the UCLA Bruins ...
Alex Weiner

ASU’s Kenny Dillingham focused on building sustainable culture to attract local talent

ASU football head coach Kenny Dillingham said he wants a build a culture to attract and keep top talents from Arizona in the program.
3 days ago
Jacob Conover #17of the BYU Cougars drops back to pass during their game against the Utah State Agg...
Jake Anderson

2023 ASU football incoming transfer list: BYU QB Jacob Conover comes home

The first iteration of the Kenny Dillingham era from a player perspective is underway as ASU is receiving commitments via the transfer portal.
2 days ago
Arizona State Sun Devils kicker Jace Feely (#45) and punter Eddie Czaplicki (#17) during fall camp ...
Arizona Sports

2023 ASU football transfer list: P Eddie Czaplicki, WR Cam Johnson enter portal

Arizona State football undoubtedly will see major roster turnover as it transitions out of the Herm Edwards era under Kenny Dillingham.
24 hours ago
Eddie Czaplicki #17 of the Arizona State Sun Devils punts the ball during the second half against t...
Arizona Sports

ASU’s Czaplicki and Valladay, Arizona’s Singer make All-Pac-12

Arizona State punter Eddie Czaplicki was named an All-Pac-12 First Team member, while ASU back Xazavian Valladay earned second team honors.
3 days ago
Todd Graham: UA win ‘special,’ pleased with ASU’s progress in year one